Edwin Holgate was born in 1892 in Allandale Ontario. He studied at the Art Association of Montréal and with Maurice Cullen and William Brymner for two years prior to moving to Paris to further his studies.
Holgate returned to Montréal in 1914. Shortly after his return he enlisted in the Fourth Canadian Division and soldiered in the ranks until 1919.
Holgate along with fellow artists Mabel May and Randolph Hewton, among others, formed the Beaver Hall Group. The group was inspired by The English Group of Seven and sought to encourage contemporary art in Québec. They also had a great admiration for figurative painting and representation. Holgate was one of few bilingual artists at the time and helped bridge the gap between french-speaking and english artists.
Shortly after the formation of The Beaver Group Holgate married, and with his wife, moved to Paris. There he studied with Adolf Milman, a painter connected to a group of young progressive Russian émigré artists.
In 1926 Holgate accompanied his friend A.Y. Jackson, and anthropologist Marius Barbeau, on painting expeditions. They explored the Gitxsan territory on the Skeena River in British Columbia.
Holgate and his wife returned to Montréal in 1928. He took on a teaching position in graphics at École des Beaux-Arts. He taught notable artists such as Paul-Émile Borduas and Jean Paul Lemieux, among others.
He was a member of various social and professional groups including the Canadian Group of Painters, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Casoar-Club, The Royal Canadian Academy, and the Pen and Pencil Club.
Holgate's work was included in several Group of Seven exhibitions and he became an official member in 1929. He established a distinctive method of portraying the human figure set in landscapes. He was also instrumental in the revival of woodblock printing during the 1930's.
Holgate was an official war artist in the second world war. He returned to England in 1943 briefly continuing to focus his work on figurative painting. In 1946 he moved to the Laurentians and later back to Montréal.
He died in Montréal in 1977.